LAHORE: It is hard to miss the latest addition to Lahore’s ever-growing police force. With their spanking new uniforms, top-of-the-line motorbikes and Bluetooth microphone-equipped helmets, personnel of the Dolphin Force (DF), launched in April, can easily be spotted as they patrol Lahore’s streets with an aim to curb crime.

“When they’re on the street, the police receive fewer calls,” says Operations DIG Haider Ashraf, adding that the crime rate has already decreased in Model Town and Saddar, especially during the force’s patrolling hours.

The stats partially seem to back his claim: according to official statistics, the city saw 151 street robberies in April this year. It is too early, however, to establish a comprehensive success rate.

But beyond its shiny exterior and early reports of success, is this new branch of Lahore’s hydra-headed police force really worth the nearly one billion rupees of investment?

Shiny toys, poor functionality

The DF’s first batch of officers is already plagued by ill planning and a lack of resources, a closer examination has revealed.

The 700 officers on patrol have only been given one uniform each. Officers have eight-hour shifts daily and have no choice but to reuse the same uniform for their shifts the next day. Adding insult to injury, the Rs50,000 uniform is made out of parachute material, which is unsuitable for Lahore’s sweltering heat: four DF officers have fainted while on duty.

To address this problem new cotton uniforms, to be made in Sialkot, have been requested. They will supposedly be ready within the next month.

Another expensive error is the choice of 500CC Honda bikes. Bought for Rs1 million each, the DF was initially given 35, with a plan to eventually take the number of bikes up to 300.

One wonders why such heavy bikes were chosen when there is not a single workshop in the city equipped to repair them. Any serious damage to the bikes would force the department to park them in the garage.

DIG Ashraf says the department is working to resolve this issue as well. “We have finalised a deal with Honda Pakistan,” he states. “They are bringing in equipment required to repair the bikes.”

The helmets to be worn by the officers — bought at Rs35,000 apiece — are also unlikely to be put to full use anytime soon; the Bluetooth attached to the helmets has not been integrated into the force’s communication system yet.

The officers were supposed to have cameras on their uniforms in order to record their interaction with the public, but given the expenses these have not been installed yet either. A much-touted tracking device has also not been put into place.

Ill-planning

Allegedly, Rs50m was spent on training the master trainers — 25 police officers from Lahore who were flown to Turkey to be trained by their Turkish counterparts.

After returning home, the master trainers were supposed to train the entire force. But 25 officers can only train so many individuals. They have to leave their active duty for three months to train their fellow officers, which reduces the number of officers available for patrolling.

Even the conditions in which they were trained were different: “We were trained on 660CC BMW bikes in Turkey,” explains one master trainer. “But here, we are using different models.”

“If we want to train other candidates for the force, we’ll first have to master our skills on these bikes,” he adds.

Furthermore, for the monthly salary of only Rs22,000 — the same as a regular police constable — the trainers have to do their regular patrol jobs as well as train new DF recruits. Trainers complain that the salary is “simply not enough”.

Murky results

Prior to the DF, Lahore used to have special patrolling units as well as the Muhafiz force which still exist. The introduction of the new force has received mixed response from the existing police units. With many police stations having only two cars each, some senior police officers were unhappy at the government’s decision to invest in bikes instead of more cars.

That said, many policemen are actually happy not to join the DF. While the gadgets may be an incentive, there is no increase in salary and enough checks and balances to keep regular police constables away.

It is not very clear whether Lahore actually needs the DF, as the crime stats are only showing improvement in some areas.

There is, however, certainly a curiosity among people about the DF and Lahoris often enjoy being photographed with the officers. But is it a good PR exercise to promote a white elephant?

Whatever it is, the chief minister seems to think this Turkish law-enforcement model is worth investing in.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2016